Email Print Share

"Vitamin Sea" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

Once believed to be manufactured only by marine bacteria, a University of Washington research team has shown that a whole different class of organism can supply vitamin B-12 to the ocean.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: ocean surf) Vitamin waters.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

To make sure we get the vitamins we need, sometimes popping a gummy will do the trick. Not so simple for undersea creatures, who must find their nutrients in nature.

All marine animals, some marine bacteria and some tiny marine algae need vitamin B-12. Prevailing wisdom was that it was manufactured by marine bacteria. Now, researchers at the University of Washington have found that the marine archaea--a whole different class of single-celled organism, separate from bacteria and all other living things--can make this essential nutrient--enough for itself, with some to spare--which it supplies to the environment, for use by other folks.

Significance, it turns out that only certain bacteria can make their own B vitamins, so B-12's presence--or lack of presence in an area--can be a controlling factor in what microbial communities can be supported where.

The research team hopes to learn which microbes are producing B-12 vitamins at what locations, to better understand how the base of the marine food web works, how it might alter in a changing environment, how oceans might help regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide and where marine animals might go to get a well-balanced diet--in the "vitamin sea."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.